Review: Scribophile

[This review was posted July 19, 2012. It was unbiased at that time. Since then, I have not only continued as a member of Scribophile, but stepped into the role of Moderator for the community forums.]

A few months ago, having realized that I am unlikely to ever have time for an “in-person” writing group, I started looking for virtual or online writing groups. I figured I would check a few out, take notes, and write reviews of each site to post here on “Hey, Look! I’m a Writer!”

It turns out I really needn’t have bothered. Having compared several options and having signed up for about four different sites, there’s only one I’ve actually stuck with: Scribophile (http://www.scribophile.com).

Scribophile bills itself as “The online writing group for serious writers.” Perhaps a better version of that tagline would be, “The online writing group for people who are serious about writing,” though that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. I was pleased to find that the members of the site are not “serious” all the time—just serious about writing.

There are a few categories I intended to compare between sites. Even though I no longer plan to review multiple sites, I can give you a quick summary of Scribophile’s ratings in those categories.

Number of authors/members on the site

This information was not actually available anywhere that I could find it. However, on the home page when you go to log in or sign up, Scribophile claims “141,235 critiques served for 21,905 works, and 377,460 posts in 15,465 threads in our writing forums.” Even if you assume that every member has posted more than one work, that still works out to several thousand members.

Requirements for Posting Writing

Like at least a couple of other sites I tried, Scribophile works on a “credit” system, where you earn credits to post your own work by providing critiques on the work others have posted. On Scribophile, these credits are called Karma, and it takes 5 Karma to post a work—so you have to get critiquing before you can even start posting! This actually accomplishes some good things, though: it ensures that new members understand what other members are posting, what the “Code of Conduct” is for making comments on other people’s writing, and what to expect when other members start critiquing the new members’ work.

It takes me, on average, two or three critiques to earn enough Karma points to post something. This is reasonable to achieve, and also ensures that every work gets multiple critiques, since almost everyone wants to post their writing for feedback.

One interesting feature is the “Spotlight” concept, where works in a spotlight earn critiquers more Karma per feedback than works not in a spotlight. A work in a spotlight will then attract more feedback, as a general rule, than a work not in a spotlight; posted writing moves through the queue from “waiting for the spotlight” to “in the spotlight” where it remains until a certain number of critiques have been completed. Then it moves out of the spotlight to make room for the next work. Marshaling writing through a queue like this means that getting your work into a spotlight where it will attract more critiques requires you to go critique the works ahead of yours to make room! Again, a great way to ensure that every posted work receives quality feedback.

Quality of Feedback

Scribophile has all kinds of members who are serious about writing, from “beginner” to “enthusiast” to “working toward publication” to “professionally published” to “professional editor.” This means that the feedback also runs at all levels—you’ll get a good idea whether people enjoy the overall plot and style, and you’ll get feedback and correction on mechanics (grammar, spelling, punctuation). You’ll also get an idea what it will take to make your work “publishable.”

The quality of feedback isn’t related to critiques, though. Scribophile also has an active discussion forum, where members ask and answer questions, some as amateurs and some as experts.

Cost

A premium Scribophile membership is $9/monthly or $65/yearly.

Is there a free membership level?

Yes! Scribophile has an ad-supported free level with nearly all the features of the paid membership—and, most importantly, access to the great community of writers.

Differences between paid/free membership (if any)

  • “Scribophile Premium” members can post unlimited works at a time for others to view and critique. Free (aka “Scribophile Basic”) members can post up to 2.
  • Premium members can add bold, italic, or underlined text to their posted writing, and insert pictures. Basic members cannot.
  • Premium members can bypass the main Spotlight queue by posting their work in a “Personal Spotlight.” This increases the amount of time feedback on the work earns extra Karma, but it also reduces the pool of potential critiquers to those who are in Scribophile groups with you or who have flagged you as a “favorite” author.

Who would benefit from the site?

Any aspiring writer would benefit from the site. So would any professional or prospective professional writer. From enthusiast to expert, anyone who wants to write would benefit from Scribophile. There is a caveat, however: come with realistic expectations and thick skin. This is not a site full of your friends, family, and neighbors who have told you since you were twelve years old that you are a wonderful writer. If there are problems with your writing, your plot, your mechanics: you will be told, and bluntly. Luckily, if there are things that work well, passages that are eloquent, characters who are engaging: you’ll be told that, too.

Would I recommend joining?

Yes! I can’t say it any more simply than that.

Just tell them Boris sent you.

This entry was posted in Reviews.

12 comments on “Review: Scribophile

  1. Caren says:

    I love Scribophile, registered a few days ago and it had gotten me completely hooked

  2. Shirley says:

    I really appreciated the following article. I recently joined this group – only a few days ago – and have only just begun learning my way around the site.

    I anticipate earning the so-called karma points, and look forward to becoming friends with people who are at varying levels of writing skill.

    Check it out!

  3. Imogen says:

    Give over Boris, Or is it Brian? You’re a moderator on Scribophile. Yet, you allowed the published author of the successful children’s book trilogy “Merlins Crystal” to be hounded off the site by foul mouthed forum bullies. An author, I may add, who edited site users work for free. Scribophile does not value serious writers, it values forum junkies.

    The Emperor of Scribophile has no clothes.

    • Brian Lewis says:

      This review was written many months before I was invited to be a site moderator. And, as a moderator, I try to enforce the rules of the forums—which are not my own.

      Today, I spend a lot of time behind the scenes trying to get people to be nice to each other on Scribophile. In my current volunteer moderator duties, according to the instructions of the site owner, I limit intervention and censorship, because part of valuing and respecting serious writers is allowing them to say things I disagree with.

      What may not be obvious is that the most egregious violations in the forums, the worst personal attacks and off-topic thread-derailing comments, are purged in a way that little or no evidence remains to indicate such things were ever posted.

      It’s a difficult balancing act. There are definitely strong personalities with whom I disagree, and excellent or experienced writers whose contributions add incredible value to the site—it would be nice to find a way to ensure that the former never drive away the latter. However, since that relies on an extremely subjective and personal approach, there’s no way to implement that kind of control and still claim that members are valued.

      On the other hand: it is very worth pointing out that some of the most valuable, highest-contributing members of Scribophile spend very little time in the forums at all. The core of the community, the very reason it exists, is the writing and critiquing process. Where the forums are occasionally a free-for-all group discussion, including an entire range of interactions for jovial to disrespectful, the workshop-like environment around the posted writing is consistently somber, respectful, and—above all—serious.

      Scribophile has helped hundreds of writers—including me—improve their craft, and even with the sometimes-rowdy tone of the public forums, it remains one of the best writing workshop sites online.

      I am sorry your experience has not been the same.

  4. Yes, I found abuse from morons there, so I left them to swim in their own slush.

  5. Andrew Lang says:

    I am currently researching Scribophile’s services, and I came upon your review of the site. Seeing from the comments that you’re a moderator, perhaps you will know. Out of curiosity, what keeps members of Scribophile from plagiarizing the unpublished works of others? Have you found this to be a problem in your experience? Copy and paste is rampant on the internet, so what keeps people from doing this here? Any insights you might provide on this inquiry will be helpful in making my decision to join such a service. Thanks!

    • Andrew, this is a common question, and the reality is that most writers on a workshop site are working harder on their own writing than on stealing others’ words. Plus, remember that you can’t copyright story ideas, only actually-written stories—and every writer is going to execute the story idea differently.

      For a more advanced response to your question, see the Scribophile Academy article “Copyright And The Independent Writer.” This addresses the concerns about plagiarism, how you can protect yourself, how you can’t protect yourself, and what things are actually worth worrying about.

      • Andrew Lang says:

        Thanks for responding to my message. I’ll be sure to check out the Academy article you referenced. I see the point you make about every idea being executed differently. I guess I’m just a little hesitant to share what I’ve invested myself into. All in all, well noted and worth looking at, all the same.

  6. Terry says:

    Hey there,

    I checked out scribo for a while but didn’t find the feedback professional enough. I finally settled on Critique Circle which is amongst the oldest and most reputable writing communities out there (I think Scribo is even largely modeled after CC) and so far I am very impressed.

    Boris, check it out: http://www.critiquecircle.com It would be nice to see a review and a comparison?

    • Brian Lewis says:

      I do have an account there, but haven’t used the site extensively. I’ll have to revisit it at some point.

    • McLaughlin says:

      Two problems:
      1. Since Brian is now a mod on Scribophile, don’t you think his review for other sites might be subjective and slanted towards the one he already fell in love with? (Nothing personal, Brian. It’s human nature, even when we try to be unbiased.)
      2. The problems with CC tend to be hidden for a while before surfacing. Much of it sounds like great advice, until you read something from the people giving the advice. Many are simply ignored, rather then told the problem (and told nicely.) Add to that, the resolve of the owner is to ignore problems until they go away, unless anyone complains, and then that person is the enemy.

      I tend to see people agreeing with site reviews only when they’ve been there for one or two months.

      • Brian Lewis says:

        No personal offense taken. The reality is that even if I weren’t currently acting as moderator, any subsequent review is unavoidably influenced by the fact that I’ve now spent so much time as a Scribophile member.

        Most likely the thing that will happen is that I’ll wait until I start writing again (and stop moderating) so I can compare multiple sites using the same work.

        Even then, while the review above is valid because it was unbiased when it was written, I think we’re long past the point where any new review I write can be taken without several grains of salt and disclosures. The best anyone could hope for is to look at my future comments as “influenced by experience” as opposed to “verifiably neutral.”

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